Housing developments: building a new village life

Being among the first to move into a housing development has many advantages, according to pioneering families

There is an Adam and Eve element to being first to move into a new development.

Developers may talk interminably of cost and profit, but in reality they are creating a new world where babies will be born, knees bloodied, cakes burnt and friendships forged. All over the country as the market thaws, mothballed sites are being unwrapped, new villages are springing out of the ground and the first residents are moving in.

Buying new is often the best option. It means you are guaranteed a completely clean start for your new life, with insulation values no old house can hope to compete with, and you avoid an onward chain. As the major political parties vie to promote new house-building, there will be more of them. The latest figures from the National House Building Council show the number of new homes rose 25 per cent in the first six months of this year over the same period last year.

There are hidden benefits to being first through the door.

Christie and Tolga Huseyin had always wanted to move to Sevenoaks because they liked the café culture, shops and good schools, and thought it would be a lovely place for their children, Myla, three, and Luca, 19 months, to grow up. They viewed older houses but nothing was quite right, so they went to look at Ryewood, where smart modern homes were being built by Berkeley right on the edge of a wildlife reserve. They loved the idea of being modern, and commuting was made easy by nearby Dunton Green railway station which could whisk them into London in 30 minutes.

“Our house was nothing more than a plot of bare land when we first saw it in June last year,” says Christie. Being involved at such an early stage meant she was able to choose all the colour schemes, the kitchen units, floors and tiles. They bought off-plan so also had the pick of the plots.

“This allowed us to buy at 2012 prices and have the potential for a capital increase in the value before we even moved in,” she says. “In a rising market, we would definitely recommend buyers to look at developments before they are completed.”

They arrived in January this year and have started to make new friends, bumping into people at the children’s play area and in the residents’ gym. Once the first 50 houses have been occupied there is to be a meet-the-neighbours party. “I think that when everyone is new, people tend to make more of an effort,” says Christie. “The great thing about Ryewood is that there is a real mix of people living here, lots of young couples as well as families, which means there are other children for ours to play with. And some new babies have been born in the last few months.”

A welcome barbecue, often with a marquee in case of rain, is now de rigueur on most new developments. At Woodberry Park in north London, part of the Woodberry Down Regeneration Project where 4,600 homes will be built in 64 acres, buyers at New River Gardens gathered this summer. Crucially it has a primary school and a dry cleaner. Yolande Barnes, director of residential research at Savills, has long argued that a true community needs dry cleaners, cobblers and corner shops to be really workable and make people feel at home.

In the highly competitive housing market of Cambridge, buyers have a difficult time finding affordable family-sized town houses, so planners have opted for new villages just outside, with park-and-ride on tap into the railway station and the city centre. Trumpington Meadows, three miles south, is still half-built and raw in the landscape, but it will eventually contain 1,200 homes in 360 acres running down to the River Cam.

Four developers are busy creating a sense of place. Skansa says the design of the houses plays an important part in bringing people together. Benches are carefully positioned outside front doors, under covered porches to encourage people to sit, chat to passers-by and watch the world go by. And what community can survive without a primary school and a Waitrose? Both are already open.

“We are working carefully with the Cambridge Wildlife Trust on the new country park, and there will be a community orchard and allotments,” says Jason Colmer, sales and marketing director at Barratts. “Residents will be able to use facilities in the primary school out of school hours as well, to hold parties or salsa evenings.”

There are plans for a secondary school a Trumpington Meadows football team. It is easier, certainly, to remember village life as it was than to create the sepia tint for tomorrow. But they are trying.

Paul and Nicola Smith have lived in Soham, near Cambridge, for years and felt defeated by the sheer paucity of choice in the city. Now they and their children, Megan, nine, and Harry, four, have happily swapped their five-bedroom detached house in Soham for a three-bedroom house built by Barratts at Trumpington Meadows. “It is rare that decent older city houses come up and there is nearly always a bunfight for them,” says Paul.

Paul and Nicola Smith are settling into Trumpington Meadows

For them it offered an easy path. The promise of part-exchange eliminated all their fears about being able to make their sale and purchase dovetail. “It saved us the hassle of putting our old home on the market and finding a buyer,” says Paul. “And it was fast. We signed on March 2 and moved into our new home 26 days later.” They feel the prospects are good.

“Although we have technically downsized we think that putting our money into Cambridge property is a good investment.”

Estate agent David Bentley of Bidwells says prices have already risen five per cent since the development started.

“There were so few of us living there at the beginning,” says Paul, “that we all got to know each other really well, and are really committed to making a new community.”

Benefits of buying new

You don’t have to inherit anyone else’s carpets.

You can choose paint colours and building finishes.

You may see your house value rise as building progresses.

There may be part-exchange deals.

You feel more involved and keen to make friends.

By Caroline McGhie http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/

Increase in international tenants seeking homes in London, research shows

International activity in London’s rental market, particularly in the more sought after and expensive locations, is on the increase according to new research from Hamptons International.

More than half of tenants, some 56%, in London over the last 12 months were from abroad and the proportion of international renters increased significantly to 78% in the prime central London market in the last year.

So far this year, there has been a 10% increase in the number of properties let in the London property market, with the number of international tenants increasing by 30% between 2012 and 2013. During the same period, the number of UK tenants remained unchanged across London.

Demand has been driven by Western Europeans making up 24% of tenants, North Americans at 8%, Asians at 7% and Eastern Europeans at 6%, the research from the firm shows.

In the most expensive markets across prime central London, where typical rents for three bedroom properties start from £1,000 per week, the proportion of international tenants increased further to 78% with specific areas appealing to different nationalities for various reasons including history and schooling.

The French alone make up 16% of prime central London tenants and Americans 13%. Chelsea, Kensington and Knightsbridge have the higher proportions of Western Europeans than any other London area, driven primarily by the French and Italians. The Lycée Francais Charles de Gaulle in Kensington is particularly attractive for French families moving to London.

St John’s Wood, on the outskirts of prime central London is notable for its large number of American tenants, who make up 30% of international tenants in the area. This part of London has a thriving American community which is centered around the American School and the American Ambassador’s residence, Winfield House, is also close by.

‘International tenants have been central to lettings market growth across London and are particularly prevalent in central London. Those worried about the performance of the top segment of the rental market as sales pick up should take note; the community of international skilled migrants looking for premium, short to medium term rental property in the Capital is only set to grow as the economy improves,’ said Johnny Morris, head of research at Hamptons International.

‘Demand from this group will likely make up for any established UK renters taking advantage of increased mortgage availability to move across from renting to home ownership,’ he added.

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Landlords get a boost with change of legislation!

A new piece of legislation is set to make a huge difference to landlords, who have previously had difficulties evicting tenants on the grounds of anti-social behaviour. The year ending December 2012 saw over 2.3 million incidents of anti-social behaviour recorded by police in England and Wales; which is equivalent to around 6,300 incidents each day! However, many incidents were not reported at all, or were reported to other agencies such as local councils or social landlords.

The Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Bill 2013-14 is nearing its final reading, whereby landlords will be able to evict a tenant on grounds of anti-social behaviour – even if the offence has not been committed near the property, and the courts will have to grant possession.

Clause 89 of the Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Bill 2013-14 will introduce a new mandatory ground for possession by private landlords, where a court will have to grant an order for conviction if 1 of the following 5 conditions are met:

-The tenant, a member of the tenant’s household or a person visiting the property has been convicted of a serious offence.

-The tenant, a member of the tenant’s household or a person visiting the property has been found by a court to have breached an injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance obtained under Clause 1 of the Bill.

-The tenant, a member of the tenant’s household or a person visiting the property has been convicted for breach of a criminal behaviour order.

-The tenant’s property has been closed under a closure order obtained under Clause 73 of the Bill and the total period of closure was more than 48 hours.

-The tenant, a member of the tenant’s household or a person visiting the property has been convicted of a breach of a notice or order to abate noise in relation to the tenants’ property under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

On top of these, Clause 90 will insert new provisions into the 1988 Housing Act to enable a landlord to seek possession where a tenant (or a person living in or visiting the tenant’s home) is guilty of conduct likely to cause nuisance or annoyance to the landlord, or someone employed in connection with the landlord’s housing management functions, where the conduct relates to or affects those housing management functions. ; In other words, even if an offence (e.g. prostitution or drug dealing) has been committed away from the rental property, there would be absolute grounds for eviction.

-Clause 91 will also enable a landlord to evict a tenant who has been convicted at the scene of a riot anywhere in the UK.

-Landlords who sell on a property knowing that there is an anti-social tenant in situ will also have a legal duty to disclose the situation to the new owner.

The only other realistic option currently available is to serve a Section 21 notice and simply wait.

There are other grounds that landlords can use to seek eviction; Ground 12 (where a tenant is in breach of an agreement specifying no anti-social behaviour) or Ground 14 (where a tenant annoys neighbours) – although both of these grounds would require someone (e.g. a neighbour) to appear in court to provide necessary evidence.

Private landlords are also encouraged to control the behaviour of their tenants through their tenancy agreement; e.g. covering pets such as the keeping of dangerous dogs, bad language and violence – however, the terms must not be unfair in terms of consumer regulation. As the law stands landlords can also serve injunctions on anti-social tenants, although there is very little evidence of private landlords actually utilising this power.

The Bill will also amend the law on dangerous dogs; introduce new firearms offences; criminalises forced marriage; gives powers to the new College of Policing; implement some of the Winsor report’s recommendations on police remuneration; provide new powers for the Independent Police Complaints Commission; and make changes to compensation for miscarriage of justice.

The Bill had it’s second reading in June and is now being picked over, with its remaining stages to be announced.


Money Help to Buy scheme Lenders brace for stampede as over 600,000 homes eligible for Help to Buy

More than 600,000 homes on the market are eligible for inclusion in the £12bn second phase of the Help to Buy scheme, according to the latest in a series of surveys leading to predictions that lenders will be flooded by pent-up demand for the government-backed mortgages.

Details of the 95% mortgages, which are available to existing homeowners as well as first-time buyers, are to be unveiled by the chancellor , with some banks expected to invite loan applications within hours of the Tuesday announcement. The second phase of the flagship scheme to give more first-time buyers and others wider access to the housing market was brought forward by three months, with a report from high street bank Santander claiming that up to 1.7 million people are planning to use the scheme.

“It is going to accelerate more people going into the market, so the number of mortgage applications will increase and that will put more pressure on lenders and their [loan] processing,” said David Hollingsworth of broker London & Country Mortgages. “But in terms of gross [mortgage] lending we are about less than half where we were in 2007.”

Another mortgage broker predicted a surge in demand, stoked by media coverage of the scheme, that could be blunted by stringent eligibility checks from lenders. “A lot of people want to get on the property ladder and the lenders who come out with these products will be inundated with inquiries,” said Andrew Montlake of Coreco. “But lenders are not going to suddenly forget about being prudent, so people are going to have to qualify for the loans.”

Under this part of the Help to Buy scheme, buyers will need a minimum deposit of 5%, equivalent to about £10,000 for eligible homes in most regions of England and Wales. The government guarantees the next 15% of the property’s value. The scheme is designed to encourage banks and building societies to offer more, and cheaper, mortgages, to people who can only manage relatively small deposits to secure a property.
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Unlike some previous government home-buying initiatives, this one covers existing homes as well as new-build properties. Ministers have claimed it could assist more than 500,000 buyers over three years.

The level of interest rates that will be offered has yet to emerge, but banks have indicated that would-be buyers should not expect cheaper mortgages.

The Treasury is also likely to charge more to effectively insure loans to borrowers with the smallest deposits. Assuming the banks pass on the charges it means first-time buyers are still likely to face higher mortgage fees and interest rates than those borrowing to move house. Lenders are expected to charge rates of around 5% for the Help to Buy mortgages. Despite those reservations, mortgage commentators have expressed fears of a stampede for new applications. Research published on Friday found that two-thirds of adults under the age of 30 planned to buy their first home or move house during the three-year lifetime of Help to Buy.

The data, from the broker called the Mortgage Advice Bureau, also found that 20% of young adults said they were more likely to buy due to the scheme.

The property website Zoopla.co.uk has estimated that there are about 665,000 properties now on sale that are eligible for the second phase of Help to Buy. The scheme applies to any home up to a value of £600,000. Zoopla said that the average minimum deposit required to buy an eligible property was less than £10,000 in six of 10 regions in England and Wales: north-west and north-east England, the east and west Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, and Wales. With the average asking price standing at £222,168, the required 5% deposit would be £11,108. But in London, where prices have been rising the fastest in the country in recent months, the figure would be £16,100.

Under the second part of Help to Buy, the government is making available £12bn of guarantees to lenders, though just three banking brands have indicated they will be offering the new deals from the outset: these are Royal Bank of Scotland, its NatWest arm, and Halifax.

RBS and NatWest said that from the launch date of the scheme customers would be able to visit any of their 2,000 branches or phone for advice. They added that opening hours would be extended at more than 740 branches across England, Scotland and Wales “to help with customer demand”.

Estate agents and mortgage brokers have reported an increase in inquiries from buyers. Peter Rollings, chief executive of the London-based estate agent Marsh & Parsons, said the new phase of Help to Buy would be “like a shot of adrenalin”. He said of the London market: “The capital needs this stimulus to free up mid-ladder buyers who want to become first-time sellers. This will create a much healthier balance between supply and demand.”

Many experts have argued that the government should ditch the second phase of Help to Buy, because they fear it will artificially inflate house prices too much by ramping up demand at a faster rate than the supply of homes coming on the UK market. Mortgage availability has become more widespread following the launch of the government’s funding for lending scheme in August last year, giving lenders access to cheap finance in order to help borrowers. The first phase of Help to Buy provides equity loans but only applies to purchasers of new-build properties. The government has brought forward the second phase of Help to Buy despite opposition from within the coalition, including from backbench Conservatives.

Government promises better tenancies for families in rental homes

New measures will encourage longer fixed-term, family-friendly tenancies and raise standards in the private rented sector, according to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

Mr Pickles said the new package of measures will mean that tenants will be able to request longer tenancies that provide stability for their family, avoid hidden fees when renting a home and demand a fair deal from their landlords and letting agents.

This will include a model tenancy agreement, clearly setting out the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords. A tenants’ charter will ensure all tenants know what to expect from their tenancy and, if something goes wrong, where to go for help. This will include greater transparency about lettings agents’ fees, helping to stop unreasonable practices and unfair charges, and ensuring would-be tenants know the full costs before they sign up to any contract

Gavin Smart, director of policy and practice at the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), said: “We’re pleased to see the government recognising that private tenants need more help to secure their rights and get the conditions they want.

“Being armed with better information will help some people to do this. But for others, it will only help them to achieve anything if they have enough leverage to get their landlord or letting agent to act – and there appears to be little in these proposals that increases that leverage.

“The impact of today’s announcement is likely to be limited for many tenants who are on low incomes and where competition for property is fierce, so we expect calls for greater regulation of the sector to continue. We want to see greater professionalism among private landlords to help give tenants a better deal.”

Lucy Morton, senior partner and head of lettings at W.A.Ellis, said: ” Eric Pickles tenants’ charter is a positive step. Interestingly, though, our average tenancy has increased to beyond three years and often it is the landlord who will commit to a longer term and it is the tenant who wants the flexibility of a break clause after six months. It’s important that the model does include rent review clauses, to provide both landlord and tenant with greater financial certainty.”

George Spencer, chief executive officer of online lettings company Rentify, said: “With more people both choosing and having to rent for longer, one of the problems with the letting industry has been the tendency towards short tenancies. This gives tenants very little security and can be particularly tricky if you need certainty, perhaps because you are raising children in rented accommodation, for example, and regular chopping and changing doesn’t work with nursery or school places.

“But actually landlords tend to prefer long-term tenants because this is far less hassle than settling in a new tenant every six or 12 months and showing them where everything is. The other danger of frequently changing tenants is void periods where the landlord is inbetween tenancies and has to cover the mortgage themselves.”

Richard Lloyd, executive director at Which? said: “We welcome this crackdown on hidden charges in the rental market. People need to know exactly what they are signing up to so that they can more easily shop around. Longer tenancies could also mark the end of unnecessary renewal fees for landlords and tenants.”